Since it shut in 1990, Agecroft Colliery, once central to Salford's heavy industry, has slowly disappeared from public consciousness. Demolished, along with the adjacent stunning cooling towers, there was nothing there at all to remind future generations of the men, women and children who toiled underground to bring back the `black gold' that powered the Industrial Revolution. This year all that changed, thanks to the Irwell Valley Mining Project.
In the summer a memorial at the pit's former entrance on Agecroft Road was unveiled (see here), and last month saw a major exhibition of photos, artefacts and oral memories of the mine at St Augustine's Church (see here). To coincide with the exhibition, a new book was launched called The Last Pit In The Valley by ex-Agecroft miner Paul Kelly, which is now available, free, to the wider public.
The 48 page paperback book basically covers everything from Agecroft's history, beginning with its origins as a mine from 1844 to 1932, to its `modern' incarnation from 1960 to its death in 1990.
The great thing about Paul's book is that it's not a stuffy history, like so many heritage books can be, it's more a bloke telling how it was down the pub…the shocking conditions in the Victorian era pit, where children as young as five would sit in the damp and darkness opening and closing trap doors to prevent precious air being lost from circulating around the pit. That's where the expression `shut yer trap' comes from. Paul also explains the pit origins of `shut yer gob', `stint' and `pack it in'
The Last Pit In The Valley basically takes you thousands of feet underground, below Salford Precinct, Hope Hospital, Moorside School, Worsey, Eccles, Swinton, Weaste and well beyond, explaining how giant coal pillars were left to support buildings and how the miners had to use `man riders', or conveyor belts to get back near the surface.
It's information, heritage and history – Eric Morecambe training in Salford as a Bevan Boy, George Stevenson and son Robert (The Rocket) working at Pendleton pit as engineers - but it's also his own personal story, coming from a family of miners…from going to visit his dad, Ivor, on the picket line during the 1972 strike, to standing on the picket line himself as a miner in 1984, getting punched in the face by the police and losing his front tooth.
Paul's first experience of the `cage', which dropped miners down thousands of feet to the coal face, "felt as though my stomach was being driven through my head"; his `snap', or meal break, was jam butties covered in coal dust, washed down with warm water; and swear words were the norm… "In the first few months I lost count of the number of times `I didn't know who my dad was'…A miner had to develop a thick skin and you had to join in".
After shifts, "I would jog home, spitting the black dust out and clearing my chest as I breathed the lovely fresh air and felt the wind on my face"…but… "the dirt never fully left a miner's body. It stayed trapped in ears, eyes and nose and was constantly coughed up".
Hot, dangerous, freezing, damp working conditions were the norm at Agecroft but, throughout "A voice in my head would say `A worthwhile job'" writes Paul. And, as he also writes, the 1984 strike "was not about money but about the survival of the coal industry and the safe-guarding of the nation's energy needs for the future".
The miners "found themselves against the state, the police, a biased media and the entire security services" and the Conservative Government's "maniacal mission" to defeat the NUM converted many coal burning power stations to gas burners… "This short sighted plan squandered the North Sea Gas Fields…which would have lasted 200 years for domestic use".
As a direct result of Thatcher's attack, Agecroft shut in 1990.
"I hope this book will educate and remind people that, not very long ago, this area of the Irwell valley had a thriving mining community" writes Paul in his intro "a community which took pride in its work".
A well recommended read...
The Last Pit In The Valley by Paul Kelly (Unity Publishing Project) is available free as it was funded by The National Lottery as part of the Irwell Valley Mining Project.
The book will be available from the Salford Star stall at the Kersal Moor `Magic On The Moor' day tomorrow (Sunday 12th October 1-4pm). It is also available from Saffron Restaurant on Cheetham Hill Road (old Cheetham Hill Town Hall) or via the Salford Star (£1.20 p and p) send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org)
While the book is free, people can make donations to the Irwell Valley Mining Project's future work.